Homebrew Legends Interview: Paul Jenkinson.

Paul JenkinsonPaul Jenkinson is a the man behind the recent ROVR and other impressive ZX Spectrum games like Kyd Cadet 3. Here we have a chat to Paul about his game creating exploits.

Homebrew Legends

Thank you for agreeing to our interview, please take a moment to tell us a little about you?

Paul

The first thing you should know is that I’m old! Maybe no surprises there, but it does mean I bought the ZX81 when it was first released and following on from that the Spectrum, so I’m first generation gamer. The ZX81 was my first introduction to computers, we didn’t have them in school, and the only thing close to that I had, was a Binatone TV Game many years before.

I got the Spectrum when it was released, a nice rubber keyed 16k model, and from that day I knew I had found my interest in life. I upgraded soon after to a 48k model and spent a lot of time writing my own BASIC games. At that point in time my ambition was to write games for the Spectrum and have them released. That ambition was finally realised in 2010 when I released Kyd Cadet.

Continuing on and I sadly sold my Spectrum and huge collection of games to buy a C64. I had that for a few months before buying a Spectrum again. I moved to the Amiga A500 when it was released and slowly made my way through the A2000, A600, A1200 and finally the A4000. Working in a computer shop helped!

It was around 1986 when I visited that computer shop in a town called Harrogate to buy some Amiga games, and in those days, people ran shops from their own living rooms. I went there that often that the owner began to pay me games to help with customers. A few years later the company moved to a proper shop and I got a full-time job there.

Around 1992 I moved to a much larger retails shop in Leeds, becoming the Engineering Manager. We fixed, upgraded and built Amigas, Ataris and PCs. From their I moved to a healthcare networking company, more of which will be answered lower down.

HBL

What was the first game you created?

Paul

My very first game I wrote was for the ZX81 called PayDay. It was a BASIC game that I wrote as a hobby and was never meant to be released. My first publicly released game was a PD title called Baldy on the Amiga in 1992. My first publicly released game for the Spectrum was Kyd Cadet.

HBL

What do you for a living now?

Paul

For the last 20 years I have been a software developer for the healthcare industry. I manage a small team producing systems and applications for management of patients in hospitals and integration with other systems. All that work I did in my bedroom paid off!

HBL

Are you surprised with the resurgence in retro gaming?

Paul

For me retro gaming never went away. I always played the old games, getting emulators for the Amiga and PC so I could play Spectrum games. I was also involved in retrieving some MIA titles for World of Spectrum in the late 90’s and setting up my own website for Spectrums stuff in the mid 90’s. The large console ecosystem seems stale to me, the games are the same old rubbish, there is no scope to try something different or to experiment, and the system is locked down so you can’t just start to write your own things. I think because of this, people are looking to the older games and systems for their fix. I also think this is why there is a big mobile gaming scene too, lots of people creating any type of game they want and publishing it via online stores.

HBL

Do you have any games that are just sitting on your drives unfinished that you may release one day?

Paul

I have a lot of unfinished games on my hard drives and backup CDs. Some are just ideas, made to test a routine or a sprite, others are partly complete games. B-Squared for example was left unfinished, with just two or three levels for about a year before I picked it up and decided to finish it.

I have a 99% complete shooting game called Convoy Protector. I didn’t finish it because of a strange anomaly in Arcade Games Designers that sometimes spawns sprites over the top of each other and only detects when one is destroyed but removes both.

I have a 100% finished Toofy game called Toofy’s Nutty Nightmare, not released because I wasn’t fully happy with it. This was going to be an exclusive title on a small handheld Spectrum that you may be familiar with, but I decided against it.

There are too many unfinished games to mention them all, but like most developers, there are ideas you try out and just abandon. I have just found another game from last year that I am hoping to continue with soon too. When I found it, it had just two levels, but some really nice ideas and mechanics. It now has 14 levels with plenty of room for more.

HBL

You’ve developed games for PC, Amiga and Spectrum.  Which of these is your favourite to develop for?

Paul

For access to the system, the Amiga was great to work with. I was using AMOS and could write everything I needed without editors or designers. This meant there was no limits to your work if you put the effort in. It also meant development could take a long time.

For ease of use and speed it has to be the Spectrum, but only since Arcade Games Designer arrived. That made things much easier, but also introduces limitations. No scrolling, limited sprites on screen at once and simple things like there is no ability to take a UDG (graphic block of 8×8 pixels in AGD) and swap the colours. You have to create another UDG with different colours, which uses up memory.

HBL

Any thoughts for doing games on other systems? CPC464, Dreamcast or Megadrive.

Paul

I have my hands full with The Spectrum Show, magazine and the odd game. I just would not have time to learn about the other systems. There is a new version of AGD coming out that will allow cross compiling, so maybe some of my games could be released on the Amstrad CPC.

HBL

What got you started into developing games for these various home computers?

Paul

With the ZX81 and Spectrum, it was money. Not making money but saving it. I didn’t have a lot of cash so I used to type games out from magazines. This got me interested and I was soon changing things, improving them and eventually writing my own BASIC games to give to friends.
Because I never learned machine code, I was limited, so when AMOS arrived for the Amiga, I was soon writing more things. More colours, music and better graphics.
When Click n Create arrived for the PC, back I was again, quickly followed by Blitz Basic. Blitz was excellent, and very similar to Spectrum BASIC but much more powerful.
So the things that got me into writing games was really the tools themselves.

HBL

You have created games in more than one genre.  Is there a type of game you prefer to make?

Paul

I like games that create a world for the player to explore. If you look at the game maps for any of my games, you will see how they mix together. Different areas, secret passages, things to discover.

My favourite would be text adventures, but these are out of fashion now, so I only do a few. After that it would be anything that is different from the usual game style. Chopper Drop was nice, and Toofy In Fanland was also different. Taking the platform game and turning it upside down – literally.

HBL

How long does it typically take for you to develop a game for a system like the Spectrum?

Paul

The quickest I made a game was last Christmas. I set myself a target of 2 days. It took me 3 days! This is a simple platform game, and because I am familiar with how AGD works, I can throw these styles of games together quickly.

For a more complex game, the time is taken by the limitations of AGD. How to make it do things it wasn’t supposed to, and then trying to fit all the ideas into the limited variables and memory size. Games usually take about 3-6 months, but I am doing a lot of other things in between them.

HBL

Can you tell us what prompted you to get involved in Retro Game Development?

Paul

My ambition to get a game for the Spectrum publicly released. That Simple. Reading Crash or Sinclair User and seeing all those games, and as a younger person, it was the glamour of being a game developer. I thought it must be a cool job! I had tried to learn machine code and failed, so when AGD came along, that was it!

HBL

What games from back in the day (and now) would you say are your biggest inspirations?

Paul

None. I try to do things that are different. Every now and then I will do a standard platform game or text adventure, but I always aim for a new idea or new approach. Like I said before, I could throw out endless platform games if I wanted, but I want to push AGD and create new ideas and games.

If I had to pick anything, it would be games that started a genre or were original. Lemmings springs to mind or maybe Cyclone or Knight Lore for the Spectrum. New ideas no one had seen before.

HBL

What is the biggest challenge you face with the limitations of the hardware, particularly as you continue to expand features title-to-title? (Memory? Graphical capability? Speed?)

Paul

The biggest challenge is memory. My game ideas could be ten times the size they are now, with complex puzzles and great animation, but you just can’t squeeze all that into a Spectrum without clever compression and multiloads. If AGD allowed multiload games and the possibility to swap out RAM banks to provide more memory, that would lead to some brilliant games.
Graphics and speed are not a problem, I can write games around that, but you can’t write a game if you have no memory left!

HBH

Do you have timelines built in to the management of these games?

Paul

No. I just work on them when I can or when I get the urge to be creative. Going back to an earlier question, that’s why I have a lot of half finished games on my hard drives. One month I may work like crazy to make a shooting game, then the next month I lose interest and want to make a puzzle game.

Interestingly, when I go back and look at those old games, sometimes 2 or 3 years old, I get the enthusiasm back, and I’ll pick up where I left off. That’s what happened with B-Squared, Deep Core Raider and with this new game I am working on.

HBL

Are you doing all the development individually?

Paul

Yes, I work alone doing the graphics, sound and coding. Recently I have got someone else to add music to the games, but apart from that, I do everything.

HBL

Which one of your games would you say you’re the most proud of and why?

Paul

I am proud of all my games, otherwise I wouldn’t release them, but I can think of two that I am pleased to have released.

BaldyZX. This game because I have tried so many times to get it across to the Spectrum, and when I finally did it, I managed to replicate the original levels of the Amiga version.
Deep Core Raider. This one because of the changing levels, the control mechanism and because it was the first game to get a proper physical release on tape. That saw my ambition completed.

HBL

What was the inspiration behind your newest game ROVR?

Paul

Like a few of my games, the idea came from one of my old BASIC games. I have about 20 or 30 old games I wrote back in the 80s and I play them now and again for a laugh. I have tried a few times to remake them with AGD, and ROVR was one of the successful ones.
It was based on my game called Tomb, which was much more simple, with poor graphics and terrible gameplay, but the idea was solid.

HBL

Your games are created with AGD, tell us about your process for learning this software and how you plan a game for creation on that software?

Paul

To be honest, I can’t remember how I went about learning it, I just remember how fantastic it was, and that the order of the items on the main menu were not really in the right order.
After testing various sections out, I soon found the most logical and safe way to build games. I say safe, because earlier versions could corrupt your entire game if you were not careful. Not setting any limits on sprite movement for example, could send one of them crashing through memory! I quickly learnt to put limits in before testing. Luckily subsequent versions stop this happening. I also save after every change, so some games have over 70 different saves in various stages of progress.

All versions though will delete any screens you have made if you change the window size, so that is usually the first thing I do. I set the size based on the game type and of course, the smaller the screen area, the less memory it uses. You can print text outside of this window for things like scores or lives, so like ROVR, your screen can still be small.
Planning a game always starts with the idea. Once I have this I know what the screen size should be. I usually make the main sprite first, mostly not animated, but it helps when designing screens and choosing which colours to use.

Next I build the first screen and start building the blocks used to create scenery or platforms. This will give me a feel for how the game looks and how the main sprite looks on top of the graphics. At this point I can still change the window size and only lose one screen.
With the first screen built, I then try to build the core ‘engine’. Things like jumping, climbing and movement. If I get this right, the majority of work is then just adding more screens. Doing it this way also means you know how much memory is left for the rooms, sprites and objects because the other game mechanics are already built.

HBL

Tell us about your Spectrum magazine, what was the reason for making something like this?

Paul

That came about because there was not a PDF magazine for the Spectrum. Other formats had them, but despite several attempts by others, the Spectrum ones never lasted past a few issues, or at most 10.

I also had a lot of material from the scripts of the shows, so I didn’t have to write much, just paste it in, add some screen shots and the majority of the magazine was complete.
Originally it was going to be an annual magazine, something just to compliment the show, but I enjoyed putting them together, so they became more frequent.

I wanted it to be a ‘scene’ magazine with lots of people contributing, but that was, and still is, difficult. Most people just don’t have the time to write a review, but with all the scrips, I have the material.

The magazine contains things not in the show; extra reviews, extra features and guest writers adding their own reviews or features. It’s great having other help out, but I am always looking for more reviews or features.

HBL

Your AGD tutorials are fantastic, any chance of more coming for different style of games?

Paul

It is a possibility. I would really have to update all the existing ones to match the new version of AGD though, because many new elements like moving platforms, would need covering.
Different game styles could lead to a lot of videos! The tutorials were just about getting used to the software and how it works and giving a few tips for people new to it. They cover the basics like building screens, using blocks, making sprites, movement, collision, climbing, shooting etc.. all the things a user would need to make their first simple game. From that, they could then experiment and start to make their own masterpieces.

Many people try to make a complete game when they start, this is the wrong way to go about it. Make a single screen and just try different things out. Get used to how it works. Then slowly add more things, change things, move things.. just mess about. Don’t even have a plan for game at this point, just enjoy making things move around the screen and exploding!

The end..

A huge thanks to Paul for taking the time to answer our questions, you can find out more on Paul and his creations HERE.

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